21 August 2009

The SVBM Rally 2009 - part 1 of 2

"What is it about wrapping a hard-boiled egg in sausage meat and breadcrumbs that suddenly makes it Scottish?"

With the answer to this and a couple of less important posers at the forefront of our minds, the LEYTR did sally forth to Scotland, during which time we'd attend the annual Scottish Vintage Bus Museum (SVBM) rally on the second of its two open days.

We chose to travel to Edinburgh from Hull. Being fairly stingy when it comes to travel, we'd been downhearted back in June when we booked our overnight accommodation in Scotland's capital city, that the most obvious modes of transport were either not forthcoming with suitable journey options that best-fitted our three days away, or those that purport to offer fares from £1 were in effect offering single fares 2,500% greater!

So good old dependable National Express it was. If we were going to be stung for a few quid, it might as well be for travel in a coach and not a Scania/Enviro400! The route linking Hull with Edinburgh is one of the best I've travelled on to date. I enjoy Service 534 for a few reasons: the loadings are not as heavy as, say, London-Bristol; the service is operated by 'Scotland's Driving Force' - Park's of Hamilton, who provide at least modern, air-conditioned (if not very clean!) coaches; and the route takes in areas of England that other NX services do not frequently call. Beverley, for example, only has this solitary coach service since March, when NX curtailed all its Service 562 journeys at Hull.

Hull really has come on leaps and bounds over the past few years. Its Paragon Interchange - despite recent reports of errors in Braille signage - really is excellent, with the initial teething problems reported over its forthcoming departures screens seemingly fixed now. Stagecoach has ensured a decent number of cascaded vehicles now operate here to reduce its fleet's average age - especially apt in this, its historic year.

Some Braille signage translated this sign as Bay One Deft!

From Hull, our coach travels direct to Beverley, calling at the minster-town's bus station. You can't cover this section of route by any other scheduled coach service, nor the section hereafter to York. One of the previous occasions I'd travelled aboard Service 534, a short-cut was utilised just north of York station, that saw the driver lower the vehicle's suspension in order for us to squeeze under a very low bridge. No such excitement today, with our Glaswegian driver opting to stick to the more traditional trunk route.

As I'd expected, Park's of Hamilton had provided us with a fairly new vehicle - a Volvo B12B with Plaxton's Panther C49Ft body, registered LSK 506, being new to them in September 2006. While the climate control was excellent and the leather trim a welcome sight, the vehicle interior's cleanliness lead a lot to be desired! The dirt wasn't a case of the driver choosing not to thoroughly clean the coach out last night while overnighting at the hotel in Hull, more a case of a very long-overdue deep clean needed!

As predicted we were very lightly loaded throughout, travelling to Thirsk thence to Middlesborough, Sunderland and Newcastle. Here a mid-journey refreshment break is taken and for security reasons, through passengers are turfed out into the elements while the coach is locked. We wandered to the nearby train station for a nosey, but there was nothing out of the ordinary therein, so meandered back having a game of 'spot as many Go North East liveries in 2 minutes as you can!'

Seen here during the mid-journey refreshment break in Newcastle.

The most popular section of Service 534 is between Newcastle and Edinburgh and from here we were our busiest with about thirty soles aboard. I dozed off at this point and awoke in the Restalrig suburb of Edinburgh, en route to the city's bus station, just off Princes Street. The last time I travelled aboard Service 534 it was double-manned throughout and additionally operated via Hull Docks. It would appear the service is now wholly one-manned and the Hull Docks extension was removed in 2008 due to low patronage and increased security.

As with all occasions we visit Edinburgh, we'd booked into the Heriot-Watt University at Riccarton, to the far-west of the city, which necessitates a trip aboard one of Lothian's excellent bus services. We generally catch Service 25, which is Plaxton President/ADL Trident-operated, running to a ten-minute frequency. Today was no different and having tendered the exact fare for a day ticket (a very reasonable £3), we took a seat in readiness for the 35-minute journey.

Absolutely spotless - Lothian Buses once again surpassed our expectations.

In my opinion, Lothian Buses is the last-remaining large bus fleet that operates in a manner that is both traditional and yet adaptive to the current market trends. Their extensive network of radiating bus services, operating to high frequencies are typical of today's way of doing things, yet their vehicles are absolutely spotless inside. Each bus is mopped out each night (even Trent Barton do not do this), the interior fluorescent casings are removed each month and cleaned and all evidence of graffiti is removed. Our bus - an 04-reg - actually smelt new inside. Quite phenomenal.

Having dumped our things in our rooms forming part of the Heriot-Watt University, set in the opulent surroundings of well-landscaped grounds with the northern tip of the Southern Uplands clearly visible, we returned to the city centre to have a nosy around. It's fair to say that Princes Street is a right old mess at the moment, being closed for some months while work is underway to build the city's new tram network. Having said this, and considering the Edinburgh Festival and its Fringe were in full-swing, congestion was minimal, it has to be said. Our journey times throughout our long weekend were typical to those stated in Lothian's publicity and not once did we find ourselves in excessive congestion.

Somewhere amongst the JCBs and traffic bollards is Princes Street.

Sunday saw is travel into the city centre again in order to catch the 0955 First ScotRail train service to Dunfermline Town, where we would ascend the hill into the town centre and catch one of the free buses laid on by the SVBM to transport us to their premises, within the M90 Commerce Park at Lathalmond. (GL)

Part 2 to follow.

Two years ago we visited the SVBM open weekend, and the account of this can be viewed by clicking here.